5 steps to build a truly authentic brand

Today, people demand transparency and authenticity from the brands they trust. In turn, it’s a bad idea for a business to get behind a cause or activity that doesn’t align with its brand values. 

Anyone who talks the talk needs to walk the walk, both internally and externally. Here are five considerations that can help as you determine how your company should navigate its involvements and communications in what can seem like a cancel-happy culture.

1) Know your audience

Heritage or pride months can be tempting as vehicles for social media engagement, but simply jumping onto a hashtag bandwagon can alienate customers and employees if it doesn’t resonate deeply with them. Know what your key audiences will and won’t stand behind.

Disney has billed itself for decades as universal and apolitical, something literally everyone can enjoy. When Florida passed a controversial law last month which some saw as limiting the personal and professional lives of queer Floridians, Disney tried to stay neutral. This enraged the entire political spectrum, whether people saw the company as “too woke” or making a cowardly sidestep. Indeed, Disney’s own LGBTQ+ employees walked out to protest the Mouse’s response.

2) Be consistent in brand values

Consistently holding to brand values helps companies find and retain customers. It becomes a unifying factor for customers who want to share the same values as the brands they frequent. 

Patagonia’s sales skyrocket alongside its visceral commitment to environmental and progressive causes. Ben & Jerry’s leans hard into its quirky New England independence to support social causes through sales and activism. Immigrant-founded yogurt-maker Chobani donates to immigrant and refugee–focused organizations —  at a rate of about 30 percent. All of these companies see these actions as intrinsic to their identity, and they can and will back them up.

On the flip side, being inconsistent in your communications on brand values chips away at customers’ trust and could cause customers to walk away.

3) Face the feedback

People have opinions and many channels to share them in and when something doesn’t fit their worldview, many are are quick to say so. Brands’ actions are challenged all the time, but it’s vital to be transparent about why you are communicating and take feedback into account. 

Etsy has been the go-to platform for buying and selling handmade and vintage goods since its founding in 2005 — or it was, before a recent decision to hike seller fees by 30 percent impelled Etsy’s community of makers to strike. Article after article and viral social media posts, unified by the #EtsyStrike hashtag, laid out how these fee changes would make it impossible for sellers to support themselves. 

Etsy executives responded to the uproar in the media, reiterating how the increased prices would help them reinvest in key areas of their community. It didn’t match what sellers were experiencing and left both them and buyers reevaluating their loyalty to the brand.

4) Set measurable goals

A brand value needs to be more than a statement; it needs to include actions and goals. How you communicate those goals can make all the difference in whether your audience will believe them. Using specific, measurable objectives in your communications is vital. 

IKEA is one of the largest consumers of wood in the world but has also made a commitment to sustainability, to consider the footprint it leaves. Critics note that this is a difficult balancing act when IKEA is also driven by a profit and growth motive.

The company has integrated a directive toward sustainability from the top down and the bottom up, devoting portions of its website and even individual product pages to explaining how IKEA moves the needle on environmental and cost-saving matters. By 2030, it plans to be 100 percent “circular” by creating zero waste through recycling and repurposing programs, and explains the benchmarks necessary to create that positive financial and environmental impact. Making these commitments feels genuine, and it should pay off for the company over time.

5) Know when to plant your flag (and when not to)

There will be times when a brand will need to defend its values against a tremendous outcry. But remember that sometimes a compromise will serve everyone better. Addressing a challenge to your foundational values requires deliberate consideration, so use. brand values as a guide to decide what you’re willing to fight for. And if you decide to plant your flag, tying that decision to your values will contribute to a powerful rallying cry.

Since Disney has stated that it will try to help reverse Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, lawmakers have threatened and in some cases enacted retaliation on everything from copyright law to DisneyWorld’s self-governance status. But Disney now has the opportunity to reframe its role in the local, state and national imagination. This may involve taking a stand the company has resisted for decades, but it also suggests that Disney could become a leader in cultural conversations.

No one organization, person or business is going to make everybody happy. But companies rooted in brand values will better weather the storm when those values are authentically part of how they run their business. 

B2 can help examine your brand strategy and approach to communications at any point in your business’ lifetime. These values are a lens through which you filter your approach to business, partnerships, community involvement and growth. When you’re clear and consistent in communicating those brand values, knowing what to do next can be much simpler.

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